It’s not often,… in fact I don’t believe I have ever written a piece for the Insider in the first person. Shying away from editorial style, I tend to remove myself from the story but there is a first time for everything. In this case, General Manager Rick Vielma of new bar, Night Owl Pub and Grill on 316 S. Santa Fe Ave. left me no recourse. My experience was personal enough that I felt compelled to share it. Already, the amount of “I”’s have exceeded the amount used in the entirety of my authorship for the Insider.
The location, much like Rick himself is a little imposing, rough around the edges and a bit weathered but once inside, it’s evident that the history has seeped into the space allowing it to marinate, resulting in an organic yet stylish atmosphere. Rick himself is a good fit as the face of the pub, not for his impressive beard or large stature but for his large vision and evident passion for making a connection. “It’s about being genuine,” said Rick.
Working his way up from a dishwasher at the age of 19 in Café Moderna to managing the attached Realm Nightclub, Rick continued in the bar business over the years which lead to his managing the Night Owl Pub and Grill and was also a major voice in the direction the pub took. “Things started to be slapped on the wall, and from there we started to establish an entity and its personality,” he said.
In establishing that “personality”, the team looked at what they “didn’t” like. “We didn’t want music that was too loud, bad music selection, uncomfortable chairs, etc. We put this formula together to ensure that what we had was a comfortable and safe place that fostered the lost art of conversation and ‘real’ socializing, not ‘virtual’,” adding “We’ve noticed people check their phones less while here.”
It’s important to note, that at this time I was conducting the interview during working hours. No customers yet, only the quiet atmosphere filled with the décor consisting of organic elements that are an extension of their business philosophy. Tree branches, re-claimed vintage chairs reminiscent of something you would see on the set of Downton Abbey, and a vintage lantern used to act as a beacon at night, given the stark section of S. Santa Fe Avenue the pub is located on.
According to Rick, the pub will grow organically, and in time the business plans to incorporate the “Grill” aspect when the timing is right. Focusing on establishing an identity, Night Owl has made a concerted effort to have a local flavor. “We want to showcase local talent and display local art by using it as part of the design. We will stock whatever we can with local products such as Mom’s Fresh Juice Co. and are speaking with the Sun Brewing Co. for an IPA beer. We are looking to speak with more local micro-brewers for future offerings,” said Rick.
“More than anything we want a place for people to come back downtown,” said Rick.
Indeed, with more businesses opening downtown, the choices are continuing to grow. I returned later that day after working late in the office and saw a modest group of customers at the bar. It’s important to note, I have no problems sitting on my own in a crowded room but in no time I was involved in a group Sake Bomb, which, if you’ve never tried is better in a group. By the end of the night, I had more than a few insightful conversations with other customers, the bartender and later with Rick himself.
Earlier, Rick had explained the emphasis on customer service and conversation but the element of “authenticity” was evident in my experience. Not just my own, but the names and drinks of other patrons were remembered, or at the very least an attempt was made by a warm staff. Night Owl Pub and Grill has made an effort to create an atmosphere rooted in real world connection – not on a concept, design or location. People serving people, and that’s what makes downtown different – the sense of community, both within business to business or business to customer relationships.
“We want to show tourists and locals that El Paso has an identity – we are the biggest small town in the world,” said Rick.